I Abhor Outdoor Décor

I do not live here. And thank God.

I’ve always loved the Christmas season. The inside of my house proves it; every table, windowsill, wall, and shelf is overflowing with 50-years-worth of accumulated decorative Christmas crap. We pull Christmas cookies out of the oven with snowman potholders and display them on Christmas plates. We read by twinkle bulbs. We dry our freshly showered tushies on holly jolly towels. We own a seizure-inducing, blazing, blinking Christmas village. We have a small mountain of Christmas-themed stuffed animals. And we have two Christmas trees (one real and one artificial) to house every one of our 72 gajillion Hallmark ornaments.

‘Tis a festive sight.

If you take a gander at the outside of my house, however, you’d be convinced I was a virulent atheist. Not a wreath, not a jingle bell, not a ding dang thing can be found.

When Ellen and I were first married, my No Outdoor Decoration Policy flummoxed her.

“Why not put just a little something outside?” she asked. “Just strand of lights. Or a sign that says ‘Santa Stops Here.’ Maybe we could hang a couple of glass balls on the red maple and call it a day?”

But I was adamant. Ellen could decorate outside if she wished, but I wouldn’t.

Not now and not ever.

I have a good reason for feeling this way; I am a longtime sufferer of PTSD (Post Traumatic Sub-arctic Decorating). As with most people’s crippling psychological ailments, the cause can be traced back to childhood. And, more specifically, Mom.

When I was a kid, my mom had a hard-earned reputation for always having her crap together. I attributed this to her German work ethic, her German planning and organizational skills, and her German no-nonsense approach to everything. This German-ness was evident during the Christmas season, too; she would have all of her shopping done before Halloween.

Yes, she was that person.

A person can’t tackle every Christmas chore in October, however. Christmas shopping in October told the world you planned ahead. Christmas decorating in October, on the other hand, told the world you were a weirdo. Mom did not want to be perceived as a weirdo. The decorating would have to wait until December.

This waiting made Mom tense and cranky.

Come to think about it, there was clearly something about the Christmas season that made Mom go a little batty. The weather had a lot to do with it. When the temperatures dipped below freezing, Mom would suddenly get a vague yet visceral feeling that Christmas had snuck up on her without warning. Despite all of Mom’s best laid plans, she was now Behind Schedule. The actual date on the calendar was irrelevant; as far as she was concerned, every Christmas thing that wasn’t yet done needed to get done RIGHT NOW!

That was her cue to bellow up the stairs.

“Michael! You need to get the outdoor decorations up RIGHT NOW!”

“Why now?” I mumbled into my pillow. (Mom liked to announce my chores early on weekend mornings, when I was sleepy and docile.) “It’ll be  warmer on Sunday. I’ll do it on Sunday.”

“No!” Mom exclaimed, “it needs to be done TODAY!”

I could’ve followed this up with another, “Why?” but there was no point. Christmas may have been four weeks away, but Mom needed decorations now and if I didn’t agree, then I would be deemed “lazy” and sometimes Mom had a habit of slapping lazy people.

So I got up, got dressed, and got to work.

The outside decorations at the Allegra house would never impress anyone. All I had to do was twist some garland around the vertical porch posts and follow it up with a string of lights. Easy peasy.

Only it wasn’t easy peasy. I may have been responsible for decorating the outdoors, but Mom was responsible for getting the supplies. She insisted on me using “live” garland–that is to say, garland made from real pine branches which, in her words, “looked better than the fake stuff.” This may have been true, but the fake stuff was designed to easily twist around porch posts. Pine branches don’t want to be twisted. They resist it. They fight you.

Also, tree branches are thicker and heavier than fake garland so I couldn’t tape or staple gun them into place. I had to use nails. It’s impossible to hold a nail in place while wearing winter gloves, so I needed to hammer barehanded in sub-freezing weather as the whipping wind slashed away at my bleeding knuckles. On a related note, a hammer hitting your finger hurts like crazy in any weather, but it hurts super crazy when your hands are borderline frostbit. And since my bare hands were trembling in the cold, I hammered my fingers a lot. And on the rare occasions when the hammer did find the nail head, the pine branches would split and fall apart and slide off the post and gush pine tar everywhere. And pine tar can only get off of your hands with Lava soap, which Dad didn’t buy because the last time he went to the grocery store, he went without the list because he was “sure he could remember everything.”

And so the 12-year old me, in my long, pointless effort to celebrate the birth of Jesus, muttered the F-word over and over while making a mental note to convert to Islam.

The job took me two hours and aged me several years. Then, as a kind of punctuation, while cleaning up I tripped over the stepstool and took a header into an adjacent snowball bush. Because of course I did.

“It looks great!” Mom declared as I trudged inside. She was trying to lift my spirits, but my spirits were unliftable. I was achy, numb, sticky, and hated everything. Soon I would feel the unbearable needle-like sting as my fingers began to defrost. It was only 11 in the morning (Dad wasn’t even out of his pajamas yet!) but I was exhausted enough to know that my Saturday was pretty much over. The rest of my day would consist of lying down, nursing my aches, and adding a Sam’s Club-sized bottle of Advil to my Christmas wish list.

“It’s over,” I told myself. And I believed it.

Until I heard Mom’s urgent voice thunder up the stars.

“Michael! We need to get the Christmas tree RIGHT NOW!”

49 Replies to “I Abhor Outdoor Décor”

  1. To say that you’ve got me laughing out loud really downplays my reaction to this hilarious description of your outdoor decorating trials. (I was waiting for a mention of how you felt about the neighbors that kept theirs up until Easter!!)

    I no longer place outdoor decorations either. It was fine when I had Anthony to do the hard work, but I don’t even want to climb a ladder to change an indoor light bulb. A house two doors down from me has an over-kill display and I say UGH! every time I pass it.

    Wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas full of great stories for your next blog!

    1. I don’t “ugh” other people’s outdoor decorations (unless they hire a company to set them up, which feels like “cheating” somehow). My feeling is, “Hey, if you wanna waste your time, money, and sanity decorating for strangers driving by, then by all means, go right ahead!”

      Have a joyous Christmas, Aunt Elaine!

  2. So much of the adult is explained by the experiences of the child. I’m just glad you didn’t electrocute yourself during the process. We wouldn’t have these stories to look forward to….selfishly speaking.

    1. One year, when Mom sent me out to decorate during a particularly wet snowstorm, I did get shocked. It wasn’t a heart-stopping zap, but it hurt like crazy and prompted a boisterous string of holiday cuss words.

  3. Poor Ellen. She has a husband-who-won’t-decorate-outside because of childhood trauma. I think she should use the psychology of “get back up on that horse!” Maybe start this year with a wreath on the door. Next year, add candles in the windows. For both activities, little (if any) outside work is needed. The following year, maybe, just maybe, some colored lights strung around the mailbox poll. Come on, Writer Fellow. Be a man (and a sweet husband) and forget about the chilblains. Zip up that winter coat and at least, at LEAST, stroll around the neighborhood and sing Christmas carols.
    Ohhh, if you do that, you’ll have another GREAT post to share with us next time.

    Merry Merry, my friend.

    1. “Poor Ellen?” I think you missed the theme of my story. The correct thing to say is “Poor Michael!”

      On a different note, I had never heard the word “chilblains” before. So, despite your insensitivity toward my mental health, I thank you for improving my vocabulary!

  4. I Abhor Outdoor Décor. Yes On Thursday, December 16, 2021, Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow! wrote:

    > heylookawriterfellow posted: ” I do not live here. And thank God. I’ve > always loved the Christmas season. The inside of my house proves it; every > table, windowsill, wall, and shelf is overflowing with 50-years-worth of > accumulated decorative Christmas crap. We pull Christmas cookie” >

  5. I didn’t even know outdoor decorations existed until I moved away from home ~ college daze. We always got a small tree, decorated it with very worn-out, well-loved ornaments, and hung tinsel, made from lead, one tinsel at a time. No throwing, no clumping. Same on the back-side of Christmas. The tinsel was taken down one tinsel strand at a time. Those strands lasted for YEARS! My sisters and I threw them out in 2015 after our mom died, and we sold the house we grew up in. I think the tinsel was older than me!!!! Merry Christmas, future neighbor! (I promise I won’t hang anything more than a string of brightly lit pink salamanders on our porch, and it will be on a side you can’t see.)

    1. When we are neighbors, my friend, you may decorate your yard any way you wish. I like outdoor decorations; what I don’t like is decorating outdoors. So go crazy if you choose. (That said, I still would highly recommend that you refrain from using lead tinsel).

  6. I decorate my classroom instead. One strand of icicle lights out mixed with patio rainbow lights suffices for home decor. I can send you my bins of underused Christmas decor, if you are in need.

      1. Isn’t your around 12 now? Sounds like he could carry on the tradition of hanging up lights. Then again your wife isn’t German, is she?

      2. My wife is German — more German than me, actually — but she isn’t “German,” if you get my meaning. She lacks that certain German-ness that makes one Truly German.

        As for my boy, he’s 15 now (sixteen in April)! But I don’t believe in abusing children — no matter how old they are. So unless he masochistically volunteers, the outside of my house will remain un-festive.

      3. The half German in me climbed the ladder and hung up the icicle lights on the house eaves this year. Definitely cheery to come home to a lit up house after drudging all day at school.
        So a teenager, eh? Will there be stories of driver’s ed training? Oh those moments of earning driving time are indeed penworthy.

    1. Daddy liked getting a real tree when I was a girl, He was raised in the country and he kept the country style

      On Thursday, December 16, 2021, Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow! wrote:

      > Becky Ross Michael commented: “I remember my parents often having > arguments on the days the outdoor lights and the Christmas tree went up:)” >

      1. It’s not real trauma. It’s just that I was forced to put up decorations loooong past youthful enjoyment of the task. It was a chore, to be sure. I grew to hate it. My family does it all without me now. Makes me seem like a Scrooge. On the other hand, putting it all away and cleaning up afterward is a delight. Must be the small portion of German blood in me.

      2. My parents decorated even when I didn’t care. Eventually I appreciated it.

        On Friday, December 17, 2021, Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow! wrote:

        > ParentingIsFunny commented: “It’s not real trauma. It’s just that I was > forced to put up decorations loooong past youthful enjoyment of the task. > It was a chore, to be sure. I grew to hate it. My family does it all > without me now. Makes me seem like a Scrooge. On the other hand, putt” >

      3. Oh, I empathize, Betsy. As soon as I was tall enough to reach the pedals of the riding mower (seven years old), I was sent out every weekend to cut and bag an acre’s worth of grass.

  7. Lol. I love your stories. They’re so funny. I’m not an outdoor decorater either, Mike. I have two fake wreaths that I hang on two permanent nails. Normally, metal lizards hang on the nails and I don’t even bother to take them down, so there’s a lizard in the middle of each wreath. 🙂

  8. We do not have outdoor decorations or lights. My husband really doesn’t feel a need to put them up. And I don’t ask anymore. We have terrible winds where we live and the lights were always torn down again by the wind. Our neighbors manage to put up enough lights that people make a point to drive out and see them. Maybe they have “different winds.” I have an antique garden gate that I have been decorating for the past year for different seasons. Yesterday while trying to wire the wreath and put bows on, I decided the gate could be carried inside so I could finish it in warmth. Too bad you couldn’t have done most of it inside and then carried out for the final installation. I will say it, no one else has yet, Poor Mikey! I’m assuming this horrible task has built your character.
    Merry Christmas!

  9. I didn’t decorate at all this year. Not inside, not outside – much to the disbelief of my elderly Italian neighbour who, at 83 covers the inside and the outside of her house with as many twinkly lights and Christmas decorations she can find. I live with my daughter and son-in-law, and I feel he does enough in their part of the house to cover me. And I DID buy two rose gold six-inch snow flakes for the tree this year. ~sigh~ why do I feel like the Grinch now?

  10. Thanks for sharing this with us. Your vivid detail had me giggling while flashing back on some of the horrors we endured decorating outside when we were young. We were the ones with full on Christmas scenes in our front yard. Oh, the number of times someone ended up flat on their back from falling of the frozen ladder. The good thing about snow is that it makes the landing slightly softer. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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